As violence plagues the Ecuadorian city of Guayaquil, even the police are cowering


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Guayaquil (Ecuador) (AFP) – Two uniformed officers cower behind a wall, guns drawn, staring in fear at a car parked outside their police station after dark in the violence-stricken Ecuadorian port city of Guayaquil.

Any car near a police station in these areas is viewed with suspicion after a recent spate of gun and explosive attacks blamed on a gruesome gang war that killed dozens of officers since last year.

Numerous attacks this week in the city of 2.8 million people have killed five police officers and a civilian, and injured at least 17 members of the security forces.

Officials say the attacks were an organized crime response to an ongoing mass transfer of inmates from the infamous Guayas 1 prison in Guayaquil to other prisons controlled by different gangs.

On Friday, special police units oversaw the transfer of gang leaders even as worried journalists and family members gathered outside could hear loud bangs coming from the prison.

National Police transfer detainees from Guayas 1 prison to Guayaquil, Ecuador on November 3, 2022 Gerardo MENOSCALAFP

Even the police live in fear in Guayaquil where gangs outnumber law enforcement and everything from the port to jails is under criminal control.

So far this year, Ecuador’s commercial heartland has recorded 1,200 murders, 60% more than in 2021 according to official data.

“I saw bombs explode,” said a gas station attendant in Guayaquil who did not want to be named for fear of reprisals.

“That’s the danger right now. You have to be careful with any motorcyclist: if he leaves something behind or throws something… you have to be careful,” he told AFP.

“Not Surrender”

Ecuador – once a relatively peaceful neighbor of major cocaine producers Colombia and Peru – has seen a wave of violent crime that authorities blame on turf battles between rival gangs linked to Mexican cartels.

President Guillermo Lasso responded to this week’s wave of attacks by declaring a state of emergency and night curfew in the provinces of Guayas and Esmeraldas, which was extended on Friday to include Santa Domingo de los Tsachilas.

The streets of Guayaquil are mostly empty at night
The streets of Guayaquil are mostly empty at night Gerardo MENOSCALAFP

He also ordered the deployment of troops to the three provinces, which are home to a third of Ecuador’s 18 million people.

The streets of Guayaquil, the most affected by the violence, are largely empty at night and the police are on high alert.

They patrol in vans with all the lights off or barricade themselves at their command posts with bulletproof vests.

Streets where politicians’ homes are fenced off to all traffic and petrol attendants hold their posts in fear after a number were targeted in the latest scare campaign.

It has become a “life or death” occupation, said one attendant, 21, who did not want to be named and said he feared being shot by “ruthless” criminals.

Lasso vowed that his government “will not surrender to narco-terrorists”.

Ecuador has gone from being a drug transit route in recent years to being a major distribution center in its own right.

The United States and Europe are the main destinations for drugs from Latin America.

Ecuadorian President Guillermo Lasso promised that his government
Ecuadorian President Guillermo Lasso has promised that his government “will not surrender to narco-terrorists” Bolivar Parra Ecuadorian Presidency/AFP

Ecuador’s murder rate nearly doubled in 2021 to 14 per 100,000 people, and reached 18 per 100,000 between January and October this year, according to official data.

Hundreds of inmates have also died, many of whom have been beheaded or burned in the aftermath of the gang warfare taking place behind bars.


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